Saturday, August 19, 2006

Today's history lesson

Recognize this handsome chap? That's Tycho Brahe, a famous Danish astronomer. You can read more about him here, but his major contributions to astronomy were:

  1. He made the most precise observations that had yet been made by devising the best instruments available before the invention of the telescope.

  2. His observations of planetary motion, particularly that of Mars, provided the crucial data for later astronomers like Kepler to construct our present model of the solar system.

He evidently also made some contributions to rhinoplasty as well. While at the University of Copenhagen in 1566 Brahe allegedly challenged a fellow student to a duel with swords in a dispute over who was the better mathematician. Brahe's nose was partially cut off, and he was said to wear a gold and silver replacement upon which he would continually rub oil. He also according to Cecil Adams "didn't marry the mother of his eight children, employed a dwarf as a jester, kept a pet elk (which died after breaking a leg while going downstairs drunk), dabbled in alchemy, and tyrannized the local peasantry. After his royal patron died of excessive drink he managed to tick off everyone in Denmark, had his subsidies revoked, and eventually found it wise to leave the country."

But he is most famous for the way he died. His death occurred on October 24th, 1601, eleven agonizing days after his bladder burst at a banquet attended by royalty. Evidently it was considered bad manners to take a pee break while amongst the peerage. (Some revisionists are now trying to say that he may have died from mercury poisoning -- which I guess would be ironic for an astronomer -- but don't you believe it. He died from an overdose of urine after knocking back too many Tuborg Golds.) He is believed to be the only man in history to have died of this cause, but I have come close on many occasions -- usually in a traffic jam.

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